Wood, the source of choice for ethanol

Engineers from the State University of New York have developed a concept of biorefinery based on the transformation of wood into ethanol that can be used as fuel. Hardwood in fact contains 35% xylan (9 to 14% for softwood), a simple sugar polymer from which it is possible to obtain ethanol by fermentation. The process developed by Thomas Amidon and his colleagues is as follows: ordinary wood chips are mixed with water and heated at high temperature in order to separate the cellulose fibers. The remaining solution is then filtered through a membrane which retains the famous xylan and a smaller amount of acetic acid, which is used for the synthesis of polyvinyl acetate. The tailings can be burned or gasified for the production of electricity and heat. The advantages of the method are linked to the raw material used. The wood is easier to transport and store than other sources of biomass (eg cereals), and it can be harvested year round. According to the researchers, by adding biorefineries to American paper mills, we could produce 9 billion liters of ethanol per year. Their work, still in the experimental phase, is financially supported by the companies Lyonsdale Biomass and International Paper, the world's leading paper manufacturer. (Will wood help fill US energy needs)

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